Freud and Jung produced some amazing concepts concerning the human subconscious mind. Basically, they concluded that the subconscious was the storehouse for every bit of information we ingest in our lifetime. Like a very complex computer, the subconscious files and stores all kinds of information. It doesn’t consider whether this information is right or wrong, ethical or unethical, or even fact or fiction. And, like a computer it only functions in the present moment.
The conscious mind, on the other hand, is constantly siphoning information from the five senses. It then processes this information as good or bad, right or wrong, etc. A situation may trigger a memory in the subconscious mind to download into the conscious mind at which point it is reanalyzed and reprocessed often with different conclusions based upon the thinker’s post event life experience. The memory that was brought up from the subconscious mind hasn’t changed. The thinker’s reaction to the memory has changed.
According to both Freud and Jung, we have a darker self within us. It dwells in a place deeper than the sub-conscious mind- lurking somewhere in the primitive reptilian center of our brain. This is the shadow self. Its memories are also stored within the sub-conscious. Memories of events that were humiliating, self-depreciating, or even violent are stored in our sub-conscious mind as well. When they are triggered, the shadow self is also. What we say and what we think in these cases is often very, very different.
This brings us to the persona. The persona is the mask we wear when facing the everyday events in the world around us. Our persona is based on our up-bringing, our culture, our society, and our life experience. It often corresponds to our occupation, the different roles we play in our lives, and what we perceive ourselves to be. The persona belongs entirely to the conscious mind. It says what we think we should say and responds to memories and concepts in a way that is socially acceptable-- at least most of the time. Religions and beliefs influence our persona also. We often become what we believe.
While the persona is hard at work processing information and working its way through the day, the shadow self is also processing information and running its own internal dialogue. It might go something like this:
Persona bumps into Mrs. Smith, an older neighbor who is known to be the neighborhood gossip and is very long winded in her conversations.
Persona: “Hello Mrs. Smith. You look lovely today.”
Shadow self: “Oh no, she is going to keep me tied up for HOURS. I really need to get my errands done.”
Mrs. Smith starts to tell a story she has told several times in the past.
Persona appears to be listening patiently, smiling and nodding at the right moments.
Shadow self: “I wish she would just shut-up and go home. I don’t have time for this today.”
Persona glances at watch and attempts to interrupt Mrs. Smith.
Persona: “I really have to go. It has been wonderful meeting with you.”
Mrs. Smith continues talking as persona starts to edge away.
Shadow self: “I hope when I get to be her age I don’t keep repeating myself. How annoying.”
Persona makes a run for it as Mrs. Smith takes a breath.
Shadow self: “Thank God I got away from that meddling old biddy.”
I have to think that every one of us, regardless of how gentile and loving we may appear on the surface, has deeper and darker thoughts from time to time. We don’t act upon those thoughts, but if we don’t acknowledge them they just might reappear in our dreams as nightmares. It would seem that human nature has to acknowledge both the good and the bad within self in order to stay mentally and emotionally healthy.
Thomas Moore suggests in his book “Dark Nights of the Soul” that when a person doesn’t acknowledge his shadow self on a regular basis the shadow self responds by doing something that is less than compassionate and loving. He also suggests that when a society suppresses the collective shadow self long enough, wars break out. Perhaps that would explain the popularity of horror characters such as Freddy Krueger and Jason. They feed the need of the collective shadow self. How often have you watched a horror film even while your conscious self was screaming… “That’s just wrong!”
We all have the shadow self within and it is a constant battle to keep it under control while at the same time providing it the nourishment that it craves.